We are in the midst of the weirdest and most leaderless season of public life in modern U.S. history. And I’m left wondering: “Where are our leaders?”
This weekend, at Open, I heard a few things. Some were from attendees, some speakers, and others from the Holy Spirit.
Most of the thoughts that stuck are along the lines of change. People are ready for change. They are hungry for it. And the pain of continuing this cycle of depreciating returns is too depressing– finally overcoming the reality that making some levels of foundation shifting change is worth the cost.
Thoughts like this…
- how we as a tribe gathers needs to change
- how we gather teenagers needs to change
- how we disciple teenagers needs to change.
- how we think of ourselves needs to change.
- how we fund the movement of ministering to adolescents needs to change.
With declining numbers in all of the categories that seem to matter, the reality is that there are so few winners and far too many losers.
We all need things in our life and vocation to change. And we are in the position to do something about it.
People, like you and me, are beginning to realize that it is up to us to make these changes instead of waiting for someone else. (Cough, be a leader. Cough, cough. Entropy. Cough, cough. I KNOW! Cough, cough.)
The Pain of Change
Actually changing things will cost you something. It might make people hate you. It will be messy. It might lead to your organization losing money or even closing. There’s a pretty good chance that you could get fired.
But I want to encourage you as you think about change. When you lead towards what you feel God is calling you to move towards… it’s always scary. It’s always full of fear. It’s always brought with some pain.
Sometimes in Scripture we need to read between the lines a little bit. I think of people like Noah going home and telling his wife he needed to build an ark and gather animals. I’m guessing he and his wife didn’t see eye to eye on that at first blush, something tells me he slept on the coach, and maybe it was a little while until she accepted the lunacy of her husbands vision. Rest assured… building an ark isn’t good for your sex life. Or I think about the Centurion in Acts… I’m sure it went well when his boss in Rome found out he and his entire house converted to the religion he was paid to squelch. I don’t think that guy got a raise. Or I think about the Peter on the day of Pentecost… I’m sure that his message of Jesus as the Christ went over like a pile of bricks. Remember, most of the people in the audience walked away saying he was drunk.
So this is what I know. Not just from the Bible but from my own life: Until you suck it up, accept that the changes you know you need to make will involve some pain, you’re just going to keep doing nothing.
No sir. Not for me. I want to sleep at night. The word regret will not be on my tombstone.
Things will change because they must. Pain will be overcome because its just pain. And the vision and dreams God has laid on our hearts should scare the hell out of us.
But fear of pain preventing me or you from the leaders we can be?
May we never sink so far.
The balance of power has shifted. Whether you recognize it or not there is a big gap between perceived leadership and actual leadership.
- Old (perceived) leadership: These are the people with the titles, position, and authority of traditional leadership. These people are called “leaders” by vocation. In actuality, they have much power of big things but little power over your moment-by-moment interactions.
- New (actual) leadership: These are people you are shaping your mind/heart/life around. They influence your thought life, they help shape your aspirations, they inspire you to be the you you really want to be.
These things have shifted in your mind. Heck, maybe you are frustrated because your own leadership has changed and you can’t figure out quite why?
Some examples… Your boss isn’t likely the boss you have on your job description. Your pastor isn’t likely the pastor you sit under. Your teacher might just be a fallback teacher compared to your guru.
It’s almost cute that traditional, old-style leaders, still think they have great influence with the people technically under their leadership.
That’s why one is perceived and the other actual.
In years past things like an organizational chart really mattered. Even if you didn’t have one, you respected a hierarchy that now baffles you with it’s out-of-datedness. If people were truly honest and asked themselves, “Who is actually leading and influencing me today” their life org chart now looks more like a bowl of spaghetti than a pyramid.
So, these new leaders, how are they doing it? Because it’s not just an age thing. Plenty of old leaders are retaining leadership in this new age.
5 Hallmarks of New Leadership
- New leaders collaborate instinctively Old leadership looked at collaboration as a sign of weakness, something they did when they needed help. New leaders assume they need help and know that working together leads to a better end results. New leaders know that when great minds work together the result is always something awesome. Old leaders worry too much about protecting their territory/brand/knowledge base/customer base.
- New leaders begat thinkers Old leadership is intimidated by people who are smarter than them or better leaders than them. They build structures where they are the chief and people who work for them are followers. New leaders want the very best ideas and aren’t intimidated that the best idea came from an intern, new hire, or the janitor. They love it and celebrate when their employees leave to start something new. (Anathema to an old leader)
- New leaders lead from the the front lines, not the board room Old leaders love meetings, hold secrets from subordinates, and rarely do the work their organization is best known for. But new leaders are front liners, those who get dirty, those who avoid meetings so they can hang with the engineers, they are hands on and know their presence inspires those working alongside them. Old leaders spend a lot of time hiding while new leaders spend a lot of time on site, working their butts off.
- New leaders hate vacuums Decisions don’t come down from on high from today’s best leaders. They are group efforts, made in the best interest of all interested parties, because these leaders know they are in the trust business more than they are in business. Old leaders have a tendency to only look outside of their organizations for validation of their decisions as most of their decisions are made in a vacuum of the “top leaders.” New leaders look outside of their organizations all the time, they want to do what makes sense even if it defies logic.
- New leaders create environments Old leaders create structures, efficiencies, set priorities, and worry a lot about tasks & todo lists. New leaders care much more about the ecosystem of their environment, bring on the best possible people, and cultivate a place where the best stuff is celebrated, toxic people are fired, and space is creative.
If you’ve visited Western and Central Europe you know it can be a wet, nasty place. As you drive around, especially in non-summer months, you’ll get acquainted with the mud. The touristy places are gorgeous and attract thousands for a reason– because non-gorgeous places aren’t worth visiting.
Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms acquaints you with the dreaded reality found in the mud. Months and months of cold, wet weather wore soldiers down. Visiting famous battle sites all over Europe helps you imagine the misery soldiers felt over the centuries.
Their leaders brought them out into a field where they sank in the mud, got covered in it from head to toe, slept in it, and then were told to fight. They had to think… why here? What are we doing? Can’t we just go home?
You can’t see the fields of France, Germany, and Belgium and not think about the military leaders. It had to take serious leadership to keep men motivated to fight in that.
Leading in the Mud
The last 24 hours have been an exercise of pushing forward and through some mud.
My definition of leadership is taking people where they would otherwise not go on their own.
Leadership is an action of the collective will.
- We will go there
- We must go there
- We will go even if its difficult to get there
Right now, I’m leading forward on some things which are facing some forms of resistance.
The details of what I’m pushing through aren’t even relevant to the larger point. Instead, I’m pushing through because the only way to move forward is to push forward and through some stuff.
O, The Stuff
In the past several years I’ve noticed that others tend to get hung up on the stuff and less convicted by the need to push through the stuff.
What’s the stuff? Distractions. Frustrations. Anxiety. Complications. Family life factors. Physical limitations. You know… stuff. Stuff is real. But it stands between where you are and where you need to go... so it’s just stuff to push through, right?
All too often I talk to people who know where they need to go– are truly convicted that they need to press on towards the prize– but they’ve fallen into a fatalistic, over-spiritualization of the stuff.
Too many times we look at the stuff and read into it that since its difficult that God might not want us to push through the stuff. We start off on a journey towards something but as soon as stuff gets difficult we start mislabeling difficulties. (see Myth: God Opens and Closes Doors)
Relentlessly Pushing Forward
When I think of my last 24 hours and some of the stuff… really, it’s “just” stuff to push forward through. (“Just” meaning it’s stuff I can push through, not that the “just” part of it somehow means that its unimportant.) Some of the things were beyond my control, so you roll with them. Other things were things I didn’t know, so you have to make good decisions in the moment about it and press onward. Other things were situations faced because my skill level was too low, so you learn quickly and figure out what to do. Still other stuff is self-inflicted, so you correct that too.
The point of leading somewhere isn’t the stuff you have to overcome to get there. It’s that you overcome the stuff to get where you need to go.
Yesterday, Kristen and I went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s an event I’ve always loved… I’ve gone 3-4 times in the past decade and the years that I couldn’t make it I always wanted to. Looking back, it’s an event where I always learn a lot.
I’m probably a lot like you. I’m tired of talking about why humpty dumpty sat on a wall, why he had a great fall, or why all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together again. Deconstruction is so… 2005. My time is spent coming up with ways to reconstruct the church in new ways, in ways that people currently disconnected from Christ want to connect with Him. It comes from a deep respect for the Scriptures, leaning into the truths of the Gospel, and a relentless hope that our best days must be ahead.
All that to say– I walked away with 3 things I’m wondering about based on what I heard yesterday. These were the working, meta-narrative, definitions of how the speakers/hosts seemed to view the world around them. And it left me wondering… is this what they really believe?
- The church is the hope of the world – I walked away wondering… Is that really a true statement? I know I just have an undergrad Bible college degree. And I picked Spanish in college because Greek and Hebrew didn’t seem all that practical for youth ministry. But I think Jesus is the hope of the world. I think the church is the bride of Christ. The church is Hope’s wife, they are wed, they are one… but the church is not the Hope of the world. Jesus is. (I can accept the phrase as a metaphor but the phrase was not said as a metaphor– it was said as an axiom/truism/fact.)
- Neighbors are people you invite to church – I walked away wondering about the application of one of the stories… Bill Hybels told a story about a man who came to their property looking for his cat. The man asked Bill, “What is this place?” (Assuming it was a college) Bill used that story to illustrate that they, for the first time in 30 years, needed to do some marketing to retell the Willow story to people in their community. His story left me screaming inside! Dude, you blew it. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbor and invite them to church.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The guy didn’t come and ask Bill for a flyer or an invitation to church. He wanted help looking for his cat. It was an invitation for Bill to go to the man’s house! It was an invitation to get to know his neighbor— not fill his mailbox inviting neighbors to hear him preach. Oh, I really wanted that to be a turning point for Bill to see that a church dispersed in its community, as Hope’s representative and wife, is far more potent than a church coming to his “college.” [If you know me, you know my prayer is that the church becomes Good News in the Neighborhood.]
- Leadership is the most important spiritual gift – Oh, there was so much insider language and playing to a senior pastor audience about “leadership!” Bill Hybels repeatedly pumped up leadership as the only important spiritual gift. He “thanked God” that he didn’t have the other gifts. (There was a lot of woman bashing from the stage, too. I hope someone mentions that to him. That’s beneath leaders of his caliber.) It made me wonder about the definition of Christian leadership. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12, no one is more important in the body of Christ than anyone else. And Jesus corrected his disciples again and again… to be great, you must be a servant. (Mark 10:42-45) Those weren’t popular concepts at Willow’s Summit. In fact, in an interview with an organization that has two equal leaders the question came up again and again… “Is it possible to have 2 leaders?“
So that’s what I left wondering with after day 1. Just wondering. Not criticizing or tearing down. Just wondering.
If you went to WCAGLS— what were your highlights? What did you leave wondering about?
QUICK UPDATE: Day 2 of WCAGLS was very good, I didn’t stick around for Bill’s closing talk, but really enjoyed all of the speakers today. Pranitha Timothy was absolutely stunning today. Very thankful for that talk.
It’s hard to imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind. For 40 years he imagined this moment — He saw his brothers. (Reread Genesis 42, it’s fascinating.) When he was just a teenager these brothers staged his death, sold him to some travelers as a slave, and lied to their father about his disappearance.
- For 40 years his brothers owned the secret.
- For 40 years Joseph wondered what he might do if he saw them again.
And here they were. Penniless and in desperate need of food. And here was Joseph. The man with the power to silently execute judgement on them. They didn’t recognize him and no one in the room knew they were his brothers.
He held all of the power over their life and death.
And here was his moment of confrontation! He had the power to do whatever he wanted to them!
Leading Without Anger
Inside Joseph screamed this truth: They wanted to destroy me. They wanted me dead. They lied to our father.
But. BUT. BUT…
They didn’t have the power to harm me. They didn’t have the power to destroy me.
And I do…. so what am I going to do?
He lead without anger. He made the radical choice to not empower the voice of revenge. He made the choice to not execute judgement. He made the choice, instead, to give power to leading his people forward and towards a new life.
We Have to Make This Choice
Leading with and without anger looks the same. There is only a silent difference between driven by a dream and driven by anger. Only you will truly know. Like Joseph, leading without anger is a daily, intentional choice to make.
In my own life I am very competitive. I’m driven by dreams and aspirations, some of which are decades old while others are brand new. There’s a fine line between wanting to do my very best, wanting to “win” versus wanting others to lose. [Sidenote: I’m a golfer. We view competition differently than football players. Wanting to win is not truly wanting others to lose. Golfers cheer for one another, wanting everyone to do their very best, while at the same time trying to win. That’s why Ernie Els consoled Adam Scott in the scorers tent at the British Open, he was happy he won but sad his friend lost by not playing his very best.]
I do have things that could allow me to be driven by anger. (We all do.) There’s temptation there. There’s energy to be found in relying on anger to drive your dreams.
But doing that give your adversaries, those who have sought to harm or even destroy your work, all the power. It’s leaning into the sin of the Garden instead of the redemptive hope found in Jesus.
True power is not in the execution of revenge, it’s in having the opportunity for revenge but choosing redemption.
“Do not be overcome with evil. But overcome evil with good.”
Photo credit: The Brick Testament
Breathing heavy and full of adrenaline I stood up from the knee deep waves among the kids and did a 180. With a massive smile I began the long push through the surf back to my fellow bobbing boogie boarders.
It was a Sunday afternoon at Torrey Pines. One of my favorite beaches doing one of my favorite things.
Smiles were ear-to-ear among this pod of boogie boarders, basking in the late Sunday afternoon glow the with warm summer breezes, the water temperature had finally risen to the point where you could stay in indefinitely without shivering.
The swell was building. We all felt it. In our group were a wide variety of skill levels. Experts with nice boards and fins running circles around all of us. Beginners on their $20 boards that weren’t quite the right size. And me, a midwesterner who loved it but resides firmly in the novice category.
Typically, I don’t like to go off shore beyond where I can touch the bottom. My technique is typically to wade out and position myself near where the waves break so that I can move “hop on” a wave rather than paddle and drop in. But the waves have drawn me out here, floating and chatting alongside all the other giddy riders.
We’d all caught enough waves. We were just lined up at the dessert table waiting for something fantastic to happen. In truth, the waves had already been too big for me and I’d been lucky to duck the ones that broke weird and hop on some fantastic rides.
I was way beyond my skill level. I felt it. But the allure of nice, pretty waves, warm water, and my success pulled me out where I didn’t belong. I was trying not to think about
A few minutes later one of the more advanced guys said, “Here they come!” About the same time one of the guys girlfriends said, “Hey, I can touch the bottom.” We all knew that this meant that the next set was going to be big. Most of us got off our boards and stood up, watching where the first waves in this set broke.
I was in the perfect spot. I ducked and let a couple of big waves break over me. And I was feeling pressure not to let this big set go by. I could tell by the excitement level of the better boarders that the next wave was the best one. Judging by the massive size of some of the other ones, which were way taller than me, the best one had to be ridiculous.
And there it was. I ducked a wave and looked up… it was rolling in. The best guys missed it, they were too deep. But I’m there, standing in the sand with my board up against my chest. As it approached me I felt like it was too big. But I had only a split second to turn and dive under it before it broke on top of me. Instead I hesitated. It was too late, I had to go or get rolled.
Pushing off the sand just as this massive wave started to release I could feel the waves massive power. But I was a fraction of a second late. And I was about five feet too far to the right… I was on the waves but in the wrong spot.
It’s hard to imagine how fast I was going… Imagine a fat dude on a boogie board going 30 miles per hour propelled by the biggest wave of the day. It’s a scary thing to imagine and an even scarier thing to experience. The first half seconds were perfect, I cut into it and was flying by as all the other boogie boarders and swimmers ducked as it went by.
In the next instant I was crushed.
The wave collapsed on top of me. I was completely powerless against it’s power. It shoved me to the bottom then flipped me and rolled me and held me under water. It didn’t just roll me side-to-side, my head hit the bottom then my knees then my head. Water rushed into my sinus cavities causing me to gag under water.
It’s a horrible helpless feeling.
Finally, it released me. I felt like I’d been spit out of Jonah’s whale. And I was back in knee deep water among the kids and moms and floaties.
The best leaders are powerless
There’s a silent allure to power in leadership. Early success leads us over our head. But we quickly find ourselves out deeper than our skill level.
We mislabel fear as following. We mislabel position as authority. We mislabel obedience as respect. But behind the mask of many “strong leaders” are very scared little boys. They’ve created a puffed up thing, manipulative, terrified, and tired. Others have mislabeled it as leadership.
Lord, make us powerless leaders who lead with love. Amen.
“Oh, I’m so going to use that with my students.”
As the video went viral all of my youth ministry groups on Facebook were littered with questions from youth pastors asking, “How can we best use this video for our youth group?”
I think that we are too fast to want to use everything as a resource or teachable moment.
In fact, I think we often hide behind our role as a leader to become plastic. We don’t allow things to impact us because we look at everything from a lens of, “How can I use this?”
And that’s a very cheap way to engage our life on earth. It denies our own human experience to go from one thing we can promote to another. And we get excited about getting people excited about stuff more than we get excited about getting ourselves to really understand stuff.
I don’t know all that is behind this leadership instinct to rush to resource instead of allowing ourselves to be impacted. But, for me, I think it’s built around my insecurity. I want to be seen as compassionate to child slavery [or whatever the cause of the week is] more than I actually want to personally do something about it. I am quick to give a few dollars but slow to understand how my daily actions may be funding child slavery.
No more distractions
Perhaps the bigger thing, speaking purely for myself, is that I know I need to walk away from the cause of the week sometimes because it becomes a distraction from my cause of every week.
I cannot escape these priorities in my life.
- My own relationship with Jesus is more important than the cause of the week.
- Jesus has called me to invest in my family.
- Jesus has called me to love my neighbors as myself. Not a metaphorical neighbor, the people who live on my block.
- Jesus has called me to dig in at my church.
- Jesus has called me to my work.
In light of this, the cause of the week really isn’t all that important.
Investing in my relationship with Jesus is more important than leading a discussion about Kony 2012. Having a great conversation with my kids is more important than telling them about Kony 2012. Leaning on the fence and listening to my neighbor is more important than telling them about Kony 2012. Leaning in and engaging with my small group is more important than plugging Kony 2012. Working hard and pushing through my work is more important than caring about Kony 2012.
See, I don’t think the cause of the week is bad. Not at all. But I do think things like this are a big distraction, for me, from my priorities. And if things like that do impact me, I need to allow them to really and truly matter to me before I think about involving other people.